The Park School history department considers the ultimate goal of historical study at the secondary level to be the formation of those attitudes and skills that enable students to understand the world around them so that they can constructively participate in a democratic society.
We hope to graduate young people who recognize the non-objective nature of information and who take the time to seek out and compare alternative contentions in arriving logically at personal positions concerning the key issues of their world.
The emphasis in course organization is generally on historical problems, and assignments emphasize a discriminating analysis of both primary sources and secondary interpretations. We employ a variety of readings and teaching techniques to stimulate and develop effective self-expression, both written and oral. Basic historical research skills are taught in required courses, culminating in a major research paper each year.
Three years of history are required for graduation; additionally, most students take at least one elective course in history.
Independent Studies can be arranged in the history department for semester credit; every year a small number of students—usually juniors and seniors—seek this opportunity to work independently on a subject of their interest.
- Grade 9: Foundations in History
- Grade 10: Modern World 1
- Grade 11: Modern World 2
History 9: Foundations in History
Grade 9 • Required
In 9th Grade history, students will pursue a year-long exploration of history as a tool for examining histories local and global. The goal is to provide students with foundations in skills and understandings they can carry into future history classes and learning experiences in the Upper School and beyond. Students develop essential skills like source analysis and crafting arguments. They will also gain exposure to the wide range of ways to communicate findings — from essay-writing to podcasting and documentary-making. The fall semester focuses on an introduction to skills and modes of doing history, which students will apply as they study major turning points in the history of Baltimore and in the World. All of this builds up to students designing and producing their own projects on some aspect of that history for an audience beyond their teacher. In the second semester, students will turn to foundational explorations of parts of the world they will examine on a deeper level in future years.
History 10: Modern World 1
Grade 10 • Required
At the heart of study in History 10 is an examination of the modern world and the ways we got to our global present. To that end, students will be asking some essential questions: What have been foundational commercial, political, and technological revolutions in the world between 1400 and the present? How did those revolutions transform the systems of power, ideology, and ecology that shaped the world order? How did different groups reckon with those changes? What lessons are there for understanding the systems that shape our world today? Students will also complete an independent research project, building on the skills they developed in the ninth grade.
History 11: Modern World 2
Grade 11 • Required
In this course, students analyze and explore the competing political philosophies and global trends that defined the turbulent period after WWI: nationalism, liberalism, imperialism, communism, fascism, independence movements, and decolonization. One central theme to be considered throughout is the role these forces played in changing assumptions in different parts of the world about social and political hierarchy. A research paper, building on skills learned in the 9th and 10th Grades, is required.
Africa Through the Lens
This interdisciplinary course aims to create critical consumers and curators of images regarding the African Continent by examining how stories have been told about the Continent through the mediums of photography, film, and written sources, throughout history. Using primary sources as diverse as colonial photographic archives, post-colonial portraiture, music videos, literature, films, and Instagram accounts, as well as secondary sources, students will evaluate the literal and theoretical lenses through which the Continent has been perceived. The class goal is to examine how evolving forms of media have advanced or dispelled “single stories” of the Continent and variously contributed to humanization or dehumanization of African subjects. Students will gain historical context about the African Continent and fluency in photo and film analysis language, while engaging in discussion and readings on topics such as the “colonial gaze,” white saviorism, and “Othering.” They will also pursue questions of intent vs. impact, authenticity, ownership, consent, positionality, and representation. Assessments will vary from source analyses to reflections on our roles and responsibilities as consumers to virtual curations, and will culminate with a research assignment in which students will critically examine an Africa-focused storyteller’s body of work.
A History of Belief: Exploring World Religions
This course will explore major world religions from both historical and philosophical perspectives. Students will consider and compare the complex answers given by various belief systems to life’s most fundamental questions. What is true? What gives life meaning? How should I live? And how do we know? The class will also explore the ways in which each religion is a product of its history. How did it answer the specific needs of the place and time in which it emerged? How did it interact with belief systems? How and why did it change over time? The specific religions examined will be influenced by the interests of the group, but will likely include a balance of nature-based, eastern, and Judaeo-Christian belief systems.
Art History: Recurring Themes
More than ever before, we live in a world of man-made appearance, and whether we are conscious of it or not, what we see affects us. In this course, students will develop visual literacy and learn to recognize how various cultures have expressed and perpetuated many of their most deeply held values through art and architecture. The ultimate question is this: how does art (from painting and architecture to advertising and fashion) influence our own sense of reality and shape our own desires? To approach this question in a manageable way, students will examine three or four major themes that recur throughout art history, such as Sacred Space, The Body, Power & Protest, Gender & Identity, and The Environment. Students will study a broad range of works, comparing the ways artists from different time periods and cultures have responded to each theme. They will discuss, read, and write about art, and plan to take a field trip or two to see some art in person. (Readings will be provided in class.) This course can be taken for arts or history credit.
In this semester-long elective course, students will work to understand world events as they arise, contextualizing them within our political and social histories. The content of this course will remain highly flexible depending on what makes the news over the course of the year. Regardless, all students will leave this class with the ability to find information from reliable sources, verify it, recognize distortions, and create a more informed and complex version of reality. There will also be opportunities to practice journalistic writing and explore journalism as an industry.
History of Baltimore
In this course, students will aim to investigate their home towns from the colonial period to religious, social, cultural, racial, and political. Topics for study include industrialization and deindustrialization, stability and instability, migration and immigration, redlining, and white flight. The central texts for the course are Antero Pietila’s Not In My Neighborhood and Lawrence Brown’s The Black Butterfly, supplemented by several collections of shorter writings. The class will endeavor on some driving/walking tours of the city, and will have the chance to talk with several experts on particular topics.
European Holocaust: History and Memory
This course will examine one of the defining events of the twentieth century: the genocide of European Jews between 1933 and 1945. The course goal is to understand how it took place and its short-and long-term legacies within and beyond Europe after the war. In addition to understanding Nazi theory and policy, students will explore victims’ experiences and acts of resistance through diaries, songs, community chronicles, memoirs, and other primary sources. They will also tackle some of the questions that still challenge our understanding of the Holocaust and its legacies today.
Revolutionary Latin America
The goals of this course are twofold: first, students will endeavor to understand why and how people seek structural change, exploring factors that facilitate or inhibit success; second, they will acquaint themselves deeply with the 20th-century Latin American context, centering a region that is often overlooked and under-studied in high school history programs. To do so, the class will study five distinct case studies (Brazil, Mexico, Bolivia, Cuba, and Chile) and consider the following questions: Why do people revolt? Why, specifically, did Latin Americans revolt across the continent in the 20th century? Which methods have been most successful in helping revolutionaries achieve their goals? What pre-conditions existed across Latin America that played a role in these transformations? What were people reacting against? What role have outsiders—particularly the US—played in these Latin American histories? What are some side-effects of reformist or revolutionary efforts?
Art History: Questioning the Role of Art in Society
What is art? What is it for? Who controls it? Who gets to decide what art is? We often think of the existence of art as self-evident and transparent, but, in fact, it is the product of a host of assumptions made by those who create it, use it, or buy it. This class will blend history, art history, and anthropology to examine the changing ways in which societies have used and imagined art, from prehistoric painters to 21st century investors in NFTs, over the course of human history. Rather than a chronological survey of works of art in and of themselves, this is a course about the idea of art and artists. As such, the approach will be comparative and thematic. Specific course topics and case studies will be driven by student interest, but they may revolve around questions like: Who owns the art of the past? Must an artist starve? Do patrons create art? Why does the value of a work of art change if our understanding of the work’s creation changes? Is there a difference between a Grecian urn and an IKEA pitcher? What happens to an object made in one context when it is taken into another context? Can a body ever be art? Does art that memorializes the past have a value separate from the event it memorializes? This course may be taken for an arts or history credit.
This class will explore the rights and obligations of citizens in American society. Students will focus on three areas: civics knowledge, civics values, and civics behaviors. They will gain an understanding of the processes of government, prevalent political ideologies, constitutional rights, and the history of the above. Additionally, they will also gain an appreciation for civil discourse, free speech, and debate by unpacking the biggest civics issues in the United States today. Ultimately, students will apply their knowledge in the real world by voting (or preparing to vote), volunteering, attending public meetings, and engaging with their communities.
Early West African Perspectives
This course will examine the rise of kingdoms and cultures in West Africa from early humanity to the first encounters with European invaders. Drawing upon a rich variety of sources — including written accounts, oral tradition, material culture, and historical fiction — it will explore power and cultural legacies from insider lenses. While highlighting the splendor and greatness of these often-overlooked societies and empires, the course will also necessitate ongoing conversations about who, historically, has controlled African narratives and how we, as outsider-historians, can center West African voices as we endeavor to understand these histories. Rather than situating colonization as an inevitable future, students will let their sources speak for themselves as they become acquainted with the wealth, power, and the diversity of cultures interacting in this region during the “pre-colonial” period.
Hip Hop, History, and Humanity
This course will examine the origins and global impact of Hip Hop as a music and culture. A significant portion of the course will be dedicated to examining key historical moments and social conditions that contributed to Hip Hop’s emergence and evolutions. With stopovers including pre-colonial West Africa, Jamaica, the Bronx, the American South, and contemporary global hotspots such as the UK and South Africa, this class will research the socio-political landscapes and human experiences that have both been touched by and actively shaped diverse iterations of Hip Hop culture. Students will analyze sources as varied as song lyrics, documentary films, and street photographs to appreciate Hip Hop’s capacity to advocate for human rights, to humanize individuals and communities, and/or to expose nuances and contradictions inherent to the human experience. Throughout the course, students will also engage in a great deal of reflection on their own humanities — on our intersecting identities and how these identities shape our ethical engagement with and responsibilities as consumers of Hip Hop. Lastly, a wide variety of assessment types will provide students with opportunities to communicate their understandings creatively as well as to harness Hip Hop’s potential as a platform for awareness-raising and action in service of social justice.
Plagues and Peoples in World History
This course explores some of the most notable epidemics in world history from the Black Death in the Middle Ages to the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020. Humanity and epidemic disease have shared a long and intimate history. The central goal with these case studies is to understand those links between societal change and disease. Topics include the origins of epidemics; how warfare, commerce, and imperialism have shaped disease and vice versa; and how race, class, religion, and political context have informed the ways societies have dealt with (or not dealt with) disease. Students will also use the materials in this course to reflect critically on how they, themselves, explain changes in health over time and across space.
Race and Racism in Global Context
What is race? What is racism? How and where did the concept of race emerge? How have understandings of what race means changed over time and space? How do the forms and expressions of racism affect people’s lived experiences? After investigating the driving forces, machinery, and consequences of racism in different parts of the modern world, students will study and ultimately advocate for various paths to liberation. Specific topics include the misuse of science (from craniometry to DNA ancestry testing) in racial classification; affirmative action in India and Brazil; efforts to secure reparations for the translatlantic slave trade in the Carribbean and the Indian residential school system in Canada; the colonial legacy of colorism in beauty standards in Asia; and contests over memorialization, from Richmond’s Monument Avenue to #RhodesMustFall in South Africa.